Bain at One Young World – The changing shape of social issues across borders

Rebecca OYW

The opening ceremony at the One Young World conference was an exciting blur—partially because of jetlag, and partially because we were surrounded by thousands of vuvuzela-playing schoolchildren, but mostly because we had our first taste of the inspiring leaders we would hear from that week: Kofi Annan, Muhammad Yunus, and Sir Bob Geldof. Watching members of 190 countries place their flags on stage, Annan’s words rang true: “We need you to create a better world by thinking globally and acting locally.” We had gathered in Johannesburg—a city thousands of miles from everything I knew—to expose ourselves to that global thinking.

The delegate speaker structure allows conference attendees from all over the world to share their stories. Fellow delegates spoke during each plenary session on topics ranging from Education to Human Rights to Global Business. They spoke about the solutions they were designing, like a human trafficking awareness organization or a mobile medical solution for community health workers. It was encouraging to hear how each person was working their way toward an answer to the global issue that most plagued them. Still, there were only 4 days in the conference, and there were 1300 delegates and countless thought-provoking topics.

I walked out of the Education plenary session on the first day with all sorts of comments swirling around in my head. When I walked into the large dining room, filled with voices chattering in dozens of languages, I sat down with a fellow Bain delegate from the US, two South Africans, and a Canadian. Within minutes, we were having an impassioned discussion about the state of education in our respective countries. I discussed the Bain San Francisco work with KIPP Bay Area and my pro bono case with a local public school district. My colleague Riley described how Bain Chicago had built a charter school from the ground up. Our new South African friend spoke about the struggles he had trying to construct an innovative approach to teaching incentives. It was stimulating, inspirational, and couldn’t have happened anywhere else except One Young World. I had never met someone from South Africa before, much less learned about the challenges the country faces with its educational system.

This type of encounter happened again and again. Every time delegates had the chance to meet one another, we were sharing ideas and learning from one another. During a breakout session about Media and Freedom in Africa, I turned my chair and found myself with people from Italy, Australia, Zambia, and Russia. We were asked by Trevor Ncube, publisher of major newspapers in South Africa and Zimbabwe, to talk about the biggest concerns we had with the state of media. Passionate about this topic, I shared my thoughts on the limitations of commoditized content. The guy from Russia cocked his head and asked, “But how about censorship? What do you do if the political party controls the major media channels?” The girl from Zambia asked, “What if you don’t have internet access? How do you access the content?”

I had no answer—at least, no simple answer. They were questions I hadn’t heard before. But it was these types of questions that shaped my experience at One Young World. They exposed everything I take for granted, from freedom of speech to internet access. In order to improve the communities around me, either personally or though my involvement with Bain and Inspire, I need to expand my horizons before narrowing back to my expertise and the needs I’ve noticed around me. Like Kofi Annan said, I need to think globally and act locally.

– Rebecca, Senior Associate Consultant, San Francisco (currently on transfer in Sydney)

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